Last Wednesday, November 15, the Neighbors for Responsible Television City Development group hosted a community meeting with representatives of Hackman Capital and its traffic and land use consultants to discuss the group’s ongoing concerns with plans for redeveloping the historic Television City complex at the SE corner of Fairfax Ave. and Beverly Blvd.
The meeting, held at the Greenway Court Theatre on Fairfax, was attended by more than 70 neighbors and hosted by NRTVCD co-chairs Shelley Wagers and Danielle Peters. The panel representing the project included Hackman Capital Vice President of Development and Planning Brian Glodney, land use consultant Jonathan Lonner, transportation consultant Pat Gibson, and entitlement consultant Lisa Trifiletti. Several members of Katy Yaroslavsky’s City Council District 5 office also attended, but did not speak at the meeting.
Goals & Overview
After some brief introductions, Glodney opened the discussion by providing a short overview of the project (more specific details have been presented at several previous community meetings), saying that from the very beginning, the property owners have sought to balance the historic aspects of the studio with new development in an “ecosystem” for future entertainment production.
Glodney said the site will include five specific land use types (general offices, production office, production support, retail, and sound stages), with the tallest, most vertical buildings at the center of the site and lower elements around the edges, closest to the surrounding community. He also noted that other local studio complexes, such as Paramount and Culver Studios, have the same components, as well as Specific Plans such as the one that is also proposed for Television City, which will provide limits on height, Floor Area Ratio (FAR), setbacks, uses, and overall project area, while also preserving the elements of the current studio that have been designated an Historic Cultural Monument.
Glodney said there are several major goals for the project – to improve the current conditions of the area around the studio (where there are many broken sidewalks and vacant storefronts), reinvest in the community, bring new jobs to the area, and to “activate” both the studio and streetscape with various improvements, including adding retail uses along the perimeter of the facility, to bring new life to the street and improve pedestrian experience and accessibility.
And of course, Glodney said, the studio improvements on the interior of the property will create new production space, new jobs, and other new supports for the local entertainment industry.
Speaking for the neighborhood group, Peters was careful to note that the organization does not oppose the development, but said its goal is to work with the developers to “make
something livable” for the neighborhood.
Wagers said that neighbors’ two biggest and most frequently mentioned issues with the development, as proposed, are traffic (a real “hot button”) and size, which she said would bring thousands of new commuters to the area.
Peters added that a third major issue for the community is the “Regional Center” designation the developers are seeking for the property, which allows greater intensity than the zones currently in place for different parts of the property.
Glodney started with the Regional Center issue, acknowledging that the Television City property currently comprises areas with several different zoning designations, allowing different kinds of land uses in different parts of the facility. But the Regional Center designation, he said, would unite all those different kinds of uses together under a single land use zone for the site, which the city prefers, and which would be more consistent and easier to manage.
Peters, however, noted that Regional Centers can allow buildings of much greater height and Floor Area Ratio than currently allowed on the site (up to 6.0 when the current FAR is 1.5), so she said it’s misleading to imply that the change would be for consistency only. “It’s like saying because I use my home for community meetings, it’s a Community Center,” she said. And she contended that even if Hackman doesn’t choose to build to the maximum height or density allowed in a Regional Center, a new owner might be able to do that if the property is sold at some point in the future.
Glodney, however, disagreed with those both of those assessments, saying the Regional Center doesn’t set height or FAR limits. In fact, he said, the site currently has no height limits…but the Specific Plan the Television City developers are also requesting would impose a height limit, and would cap the project’s FAR at 1.75:1 (up from the 1.5:1 current zoning allows, but nowhere near 6.0). And if a future owner or developer wanted to change any of that, he said, they would have to go through the entire public entitlement process again, just as Hackman is doing now. But he said he does realize that this is a “critical” issue for neighbors, so the company will continue to work with them on it.
Next, Wagers said the neighbors are also concerned about the construction timeline. “You’re asking for a 20-year development agreement,” she said. “Why should we be stuck with the uncertainty of a 20-year development schedule?”
Glodney said the developers are not planning for 20 years of construction, but the city requires them to disclose the maximum possible impacts of the project, so they have outlined a couple of possible scenarios. The first, which he said is “ideal,” and the one they hope will come to pass, is that they will be able to build everything they’re proposing within a period of 32 months. If for some reason that can’t happen, though, Glodney said, they’ve also outlined a plan in which the various parts of the project would be built in phases, so one part of the project – such as the new soundstages and support facilities along the Fairfax Ave. side of the site – would be built and put into use for a while before the next part was constructed, and so on. But even if they have to build it in five phases, he said, that still wouldn’t take 20 years. “No one wants 20 years of construction. It would put us out of business.”
Wagers and Peters said this still seemed too open-ended, though, and asked if the developers could come up with some sort of “happy medium” that wouldn’t leave the neighbors with “two decades of uncertainty.”
Next, Peters expressed concerns about fire protection for a project of this size, as well as whether or not emergency response times for people in the surrounding area would be compromised both during construction and after its completion, considering the additional traffic congestion it could generate.
Land Use consultant Lonner noted that while a letter submitted by the Los Angeles Fire Department as part of the Draft Environmental Impact Report for the project suggested that current response capabilities might be inadequate, the developers are also still discussing mitigations such as hydrants, sprinkler systems, street improvements and more, which would improve the situation. And Glodney added that the project’s Final EIR, which is scheduled to be released soon, “will show that we’re adding fire service.”
Next, Peters noted that the project has requested up to 10 liquor licenses, which raises the possibility of locating a nightclub somewhere on the site or in one of the public-facing retail spaces along its perimeter. She said the developers have previously indicated that nightclubs wouldn’t be part of the project, but “if they’re not going to be allowed,” she asked, “can we exclude them from the Specific Plan?”
“Sure,” said Glodney…which Wagers said was a “concise and satisfying” response.
Wagers also brought up the issue of electronic signs, noting that the EIR says there will be 30,000 square feet of signage on the site, much of which will be illuminated, which is “even more alarming.” She asked when a Sign Plan would be available, and if the developers would be willing to exclude digital signage on the external faces of the facility.
Lonner confirmed that there will be no external-facing digital signs or billboards, and that electronic signs will be used only in internal parts of the facility. Also, he said, they’re currently coordinating with the city on a release date for the Sign Plan – it should come out sometime after the Final EIR is released, but before the public hearings on the project begin. The bottom line, though, he said, is that “There will be no billboards, and no digital signs.”
Finally, returning to the issue of alcohol permits, Peters asked for a clarification of how many permits the site currently has, how many new permits are being requested, and what the total number might eventually be. But Lonner said there are no current liquor licenses at the site (only occasional temporary permits for event catering), and any new permits will count toward the maximum of 10 that would be allowed for the facility as a whole.
After the major questions presented by Wagers and Peters, the floor was opened to questions from audience members, some of which are paraphrased below.
I don’t understand why you need the Regional Center designation. Can you explain it in laymans’ terms?
Lonner explained that a “Regional Commercial Center” is a city-recognized designation for an area where uses are “more intense” than a “Neighborhood Commercial” area. But he said the activity at Television City has always better fit the Regional Center definition, and would be the most appropriate one for it moving forward, unless the Planning Department has a different suggestion. Also, he reiterated, the Television City property currently includes parcels with several different zoning designations, and it would be more appropriate to unify it under a single zoning label.
Regional Centers can allow up to a 6.0:1 FAR, so is there a way to unify the zoning in a way that wouldn’t change the current 1.5:1 FAR?
After Wagers said the current plan for a Regional Center designation with a Specific Plan limiting the FAR to 1.75:1 is like asking for a $7,000 credit card limit but promising to spend only $4,000, Glodney said that they do understand the neighbors’ concerns, and “we will work to fix or amend that and unify the site in another way.” At the same time, though, he also explained again that the Regional Center does not automatically set the FAR (“There is zero nexus between Regional Center and 6.0.”) and that under the proposed Specific Plan, Floor Area Ratio for the currently proposed project can only go up to 1.75:1.
With so many new developments going up in the area, how will all that new traffic affect the streets, especially the ambulances going to Cedars Sinai Medical Center?
Traffic engineer Gibson said the developers have looked at the six or seven major construction projects now underway in the area, and all of those will likely be complete by the time construction starts at Television City. Also, he said, both the DEIR and FEIR address questions about emergency vehicle response times, and measures that can be taken to ensure they’re not impeded.
I’ve heard you went ahead and did the Environmental Impact Report before you had a defined project. How can that be?
Glodney said there have been drawings of the project, showing their various levels and elevations, from the very beginning, and they have been included in all the major documents so far, including the initial Application Plan, the Draft Environmental Impact Report, and the Specific Plan. He said the project still has to go through the city’s Plan Check process for final approvals, and if any substantial changes are required during that process, new drawings will be provided.
Will all nine traffic entrances to the property have signal lights?
The three major entrances will have signals.
Is there anything else in our area that’s 225 feet tall (the height of the tallest building proposed for this project)?
Glodney said no (with Peters noting that the Park La Brea towers are only 125 feet tall), but he noted that the city allows unlimited height at this location, and the developers will cap this project at 225 feet. And only 8% of the total footprint – the “donut hole in the middle” – will be that tall.
You’re proposing a total of 5,000 parking spots. With that many people traveling the streets, how will you fix the traffic problems, including making sure emergency vehicles can get through?
Gibson said the Environmental Impact Report looked at potential traffic impacts for the new development, and all of the potential issues and suggested mitigations were reviewed and approved by the LA Department of Transportation. In addition, he said, the developers will also make various improvements to nearby traffic signals and other elements to address the traffic increases.
If you’re going to have a transportation hub (a collection point for shuttles to and from the subway line on Wilshire Blvd.), why do you need 5,000 parking spaces…and how do you know how many you need?
Gibson said the expanded studio complex will have about 8,000 employees, as well as visitors and audiences, coming to the site. So they did an an hour-by-hour traffic study to determine how many parking spaces they’ll need for each hour of each day. And that number is less than 8,000, he said, because not all employees are there at the
same time, or on the same days. So the peak parking number is about 5,000 and that’s how many spaces they’ll need to satisfy the demand at any given time.
I’m concerned about emergency vehicles being able to get to my apartment, not just the studio. How will all the construction truck traffic, hauling dirt in and out, affect how fire trucks can get to me if there’s an emergency?
Gibson said that if they can build everything in 32 months, as intended, that period will be the peak of construction activity. And if they do that, he said, they will also close the site to production uses and other traffic during that time, which means current traffic into and out of the site – about 4,000 trips per day – would be eliminated. Also, construction would generate about 2,100 vehicle trips per day, which is fewer than the current number of trips, so traffic in the area would actually go down during construction. Finally, he noted, all construction trucks and worker parking will be located on the site (which is different from what the DEIR originally said, and is a new commitment written into their Construction Management Plan). And finally, as he said earlier, they have also studied how emergency vehicles will get both into and past the site, and they think they can maintain the existing response/access times for both the site and the surrounding community.
How can all those cars not create congestion?
Gibson explained that traffic volume isn’t really the basis for traffic studies these days. Instead, he said, three or four years ago, California changed the rules for traffic studies from looking at levels of service at an intersection to vehicle miles traveled – to better measure the relationship between the places people live and where they work, and so we can work to reduce those trips over time, and encourage development and density near transit systems. And this project, he said, meets both of those goals. It builds employment near residential areas, and it creates a new transit system that will connect with the subway. Finally, it will also add millions of dollars in improvements for vehicle traffic in the area.
The issue is safety. I’ve seen how the Grove’s expansions have affected traffic. Will people’s use of the transit shuttles help regulate traffic…and what about cross-walks?
Trifiletti said that from the very beginning, the developers have been looking at all modes of travel, and that they want to work on all kinds of alternate transportation. They are also working with the City Council office on a new Traffic Management Plan for the area, to help improve both flow and safety.
It looks like use of the existing helipad at Television City isn’t currently limited in any way. Will you be setting limits for hours, frequency, etc. in the future?
Glodney said the helipad, which has been there for many years, has always been and will continue to be used for production/studio use only, and not for other commercial purposes. And when pressed further about future guarantees, he said, “It’s a conversation that we should continue to have so we can understand the rules and parameters you
might be suggesting. But this is not going to be with commercial licenses open to the public. It will not be a commercial license open to another operator. It will be for the studio and its users within.”
What about the alcohol licenses and retail spaces – will that be in the neighborhood-facing section?
According to Glodney, most of the alcohol permits will be for on-campus commissaries and restaurants that will serve the employees and visitors at the studio. The other licenses could potentially be used in the neighborhood-facing retail (restaurants and/or markets) along the edges of the site.
It’s one thing to encourage employees to use mobility options, but is there some way incentivize them to use it?
Gibson said this is a great question, and the Traffic Demand Management plan they’re developing contains a long list of incentives to supporting use of the mobility hub. Also, he said, in order to fulfill the city’s requirements, they will have to measure activity at the hub every year, and if they don’t meet the targets for its use, they will have to add even more incentives.
Virtual production stages are becoming very popular, with full 360-degree LED lighting, specialized machinery, and data farms. Have you thought about how much power that will use, where it will come from, and how you can offset it?
The panelists said that one explicit goal of the redevelopment is to make Television City the first all-electric studio in Los Angeles, built to an LEED Gold standard. Also, they already produce solar power on the site, and they will continue to do so, with battery backups to help store the energy. Finally, they said they’ve been working hand in hand with LADWP, which has demonstrated its ability to serve the studio’s power needs.
This is not like an apartment building, which is pretty fixed in scope and use…unlike a studio, which keeps evolving over time as needs change. But this is a confined location, in the middle of the city, so you won’t – and shouldn’t – have the latitude to keep evolving it. How will you deal with that?
Glodney said that’s a great point, and exactly why they’re proposing the project holistically, with future needs in mind, so “you don’t see us coming back to the table, hat in hand, saying, “You know, we made a mistake, we want to do this, actually.”” He said, “What you see is a project fully defined, edge to edge, across the 25 acres, with that whole program. You get to see today what that project looks like. You get that assurance that this is what that project is going to be, and the ecosystem is built to support the media industry as it evolves…it’s to protect the fact that you’re not going to keep coming back, and it’s not going to keep changing.”
Several recent events at the nearby Grove, such as Taylor Swift’s visit and the fireworks for the Christmas Tree lighting, were extremely disruptive to the nearby residential neighborhoods. Will you be having big events like this at the new Television City?
According to the panelists, no events would be specifically allowed by the Specific Plan for this project. Any special events at the site would have to go through the city’s usual Temporary Special Event permitting process, as they do now. There will be no changes.
After the questions, Peters, Trifiletti, and one community member had some final words for the evening.
First, Peters reminded the attendees that, “Again, we’re not opposed to this project, and we’re not opposed to the construction, and we’re not opposed to the redevelopment.” But, she said, the developers can create improvements and more jobs “without a Regional Center and without helicopters, and without a lot of the things that…will make it…really unbearable for the people that actually live here. There is a happy medium. That’s why we’re here. We’re trying to find a happy medium.”
And Trifiletti responded that “we’re really listening tonight to hear how we can work with the council office to do our best to do even better than what we’ve proposed today so we can keep making this project better.”
Peters said that she appreciates that, but at the same time, “it has been a year of us talking and you listening and nothing has changed in the Specific Plan whatsoever, except for a couple of uses…So I think it’s really important to point out that as a community we feel like nobody’s listening,” which was met with applause from the audience.
Finally, Wagers offered the last word to Dale Kendall, who runs another local advocacy group, Save Beverly Fairfax, and said that group has also been meeting with the Hackman team but is also not yet satisfied. “We want the studio to be successful,” Kendall said. “We’re Hollywood. We’re Los Angeles. This is what we’re known for. We want them to do well.” But, he continued, “I would like to see this scaled back a little bit. They’re having approximately 8000 workers, 5,000 parking spaces, shuttles going up and down Fairfax to the Purple Line…So if we can make this project a little bit smaller, I think that everybody would be happy and I hope that it would still be big enough that they could make money.”
The next step for the Television City project will be the release of the Final EIR (as well as other documents such as the Sign Plan, and the Traffic Management Program), and then there will be several public hearings, with much more opportunity for public comments, before votes by the City Planning Commission, City Council PLUM Committee, and the full City Council.